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Maldonado aims to stay strong at plate in '18

Angels catcher experienced second-half slump last season
MLB.com @mi_guardado

TEMPE, Ariz. -- No player caught more games in the Majors last year than Martin Maldonado.

In his first full season as a starter, Maldonado appeared in 137 games behind the plate for the Angels, far surpassing his previous career high of 79. While his elite defense proved key for the Angels and netted him his first career Gold Glove Award in 2017, Maldonado admits that the increased workload took its toll on his offensive production as the season wore on. He posted a .539 OPS in the second half, down from .725 in the first half.

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TEMPE, Ariz. -- No player caught more games in the Majors last year than Martin Maldonado.

In his first full season as a starter, Maldonado appeared in 137 games behind the plate for the Angels, far surpassing his previous career high of 79. While his elite defense proved key for the Angels and netted him his first career Gold Glove Award in 2017, Maldonado admits that the increased workload took its toll on his offensive production as the season wore on. He posted a .539 OPS in the second half, down from .725 in the first half.

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"I failed in the physical preparation during the season," Maldonado said in Spanish on Saturday. "It's something that I thought was going to be easier than what I experienced. But this year we're working hard to create a plan during the season that will keep me at the same level for the whole year."

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Maldonado said he's spoken with head strength and conditioning coach Lee Fiocchi about ways to adjust his in-season gym routine to prevent a similar offensive dropoff in 2018.

"I think the type of work I did in the gym during the season wasn't right for keeping me at the level I needed to be at physically," said Maldonado, who launched his first home run of the spring off Mariners right-hander Rob Whalen on Saturday night.

The addition of Rene Rivera could also help keep Maldonado fresher this season. Signed to a one-year, $2.8 million contract in January, Rivera is expected to serve as Maldonado's backup, giving the Angels a defensively savvy veteran to help shoulder the catching workload.

"I think with Rene, there's no doubt that with his experience we can work him in to keep Martin a little fresher offensively," manager Mike Scioscia said. "But it still comes down to the defensive component that a catcher brings, and Martin had an unbelievable year last year. So I'm not going to arbitrarily say he won't catch as much. But I think there can be an opportunity maybe to give him those days off, which might help him on the offensive side. Defensively, he showed he was definitely capable to catch as many games as he did."

Video: CHC@LAA: Maldonado throws out Schwarber at second

A longtime backup to All-Star Jonathan Lucroy in Milwaukee, Maldonado didn't get his first opportunity to start until the Angels acquired him in an offseason trade last winter. The 31-year-old quickly impressed the Angels with his defensive acumen, including his cannon-like throwing arm, pitch-framing skills and work with the club's pitching staff.

"He's engaged in the game," left-hander Tyler Skaggs said. "He's one of those guys where you can tell that he's going with you pitch by pitch. He wants to execute the pitch, number one. Number two, I don't even have to shake because he knows exactly what I want to throw. That just comes with relationship, that comes with being in tune with the pitcher and what he's got going that night."

Maldonado's talent was validated in November, when he won his first Gold Glove Award and unseated the Royals' Salvador Perez, who had won the award in four consecutive seasons in the American League.

"It was one of my goals at the beginning of the year," Maldonado said. "It was something that I wanted. I wanted to win it, just like I wanted to win the opportunity to play every day and show what I could do. It was something that I had been waiting for for many years."

Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Los Angeles Angels, Martin Maldonado